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Tokyo Olympics 2020: Saurabh Chaudhury loses rhythm and final, gains perspective

·4 min read

For 90 shimmering, dazzling, heady minutes on Saturday, the intoxicating whiff of hope filled the minds of the Indian shooting fraternity, making them giddy. Saurabh Chaudhury, teenage phenom with a pistol capable of more magic than Harry Potter's wand, had finished the 10m air pistol qualification event on top of the standings, having shot 586.

For anyone who has followed his short, illustrious career, there was a sense of what would happen when he took to the finals. There was hope. The boy has scooped up medals at every level, from Junior World Championships to Junior World Cups. From senior World Cups to season-ending World Cup Finals. From Asian Games to Asian Championships to the Youth Olympics. And he's all of 19 years and two months.

Hope, though, is a dangerous thing at the Olympics. Foregone conclusions are not as foregone as you concluded them to be. For every Mirabai Chanu, who does what you expect her to do, you have a Saurabh Choudhury who cannot. At the Olympics, form guides prove to be irrelevant. Pistol shots might sound like little harmless firecrackers going off, but at the lanes there's a war underway.

Saurabh mastered a majority of that war with aplomb. As he was shooting his way into the final, even some of India's top rifle shooters turned up to watch. Divyansh Singh Panwar and Anjum Moudgil were there. As were Suma Shirur and Deepali Deshpande, both trailblazers of their time, wondering €" possibly, hoping €" that this boy of 19 gets Team India a medal.

The qualification event €" six series of 10 shots each €" is where Goliaths are slain. Jin Jongoh, who has six medals at the Olympics, was brought down in the 60-lane qualification arena.

But the finals are where legends are written. Saurabh never recovered from his initial shots which consigned him to last place after five. The rest of the path was difficult. Soon enough, Saurabh was taking his place next to his coach Samresh Jung, a formidable shooter in his own days.

Heartbreak in your first Olympics is not surprising, however thick the pre-Games hype around you is. It's a rite of passage that everyone, from Abhinav Bindra to Gagan Narang to Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore to Jitu Rai to Apurvi Chandela went through. From the crucible of those heartbreaks, most of these shooters, legends of the sport in India, emerged as better sharpshooters.

But what went wrong on Saturday after a flying performance in qualification?

"Shooters have a rhythm. Most days you find it at the shooting range. Some days you don't. There's no disappointment though," Saurabh said in the mixed zone with the same nonchalance that he wears to the firing point. "Abhi toh ek chance hi hua hai. Abhi toh poori umar padi hai. (This was just one shot at an Olympics medal. I still have my entire life to win here.)"

To illustrate exactly what he thought of competing on a stage as intimidating as the Olympics, he said, "The eighth shooter to make it to the final today was someone who shot 578. In the Nationals in India, shooters make it to the final after a score over 581."

So then what happened?

"It happens. In shooting we say 'shit happens'," said Samresh Jung, a formidable shooter himself back in the day, who was accompanying Saurabh on Saturday as his coach. "In one stretch in the qualification match, he shot 20-odd tens.

On being asked if he thought that the occasion had gotten better of him, Samresh said: "I don't think so. If it had, he wouldn't be standing here in the final.

"Finals are not meant for shooters. It's meant for public. Normally, you come to the qualification shooting event, you have a lot of time. But in the final, you have no rhythm," he added. "In my opinion no one can say anything negative about his performance. He doesn't give up. If he's struggling in the middle, he's always trying to work on it."

For many of Saurabh's compatriots in the past, another opportunity to win a medal at an Olympics, came four years later. For Saurabh, it will come on Tuesday as he takes to the ranges with his 10m air pistol mixed team event partner Manu Bhaker. As long as the two are together, hope is never in short supply.

Also See: Tokyo Olympics 2020: India's Saurabh Chaudhary finishes seventh in 10m pistol final

Tokyo Olympics 2020: Saurabh Chaudhary tops qualifications to enter 10m air pistol final; Abhishek Verma finishes 17th

Tokyo Olympics 2020: India's Divyansh Singh Panwar one of eight mock contestants in final shooting dress rehearsal

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